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All politics is local

Israel’s deputy consul in New York deals with Bergen County’s daily grind

Benjamin Krasna is now officially playing in the diplomatic big leagues. The Teaneck resident is Israel’s deputy consul general in New York.

But when the second man in Israel’s New York office sat down with The Jewish Standard in the newspaper’s offices last Thursday, he was just relieved that rain had postponed what he calls a regular meeting of the real movers and shakers in the metropolitan area — his son’s Little League baseball game.

At work as deputy consul, he is responsible for keeping a bead on what national Jewish groups are doing and how they interact with Israel. Every major Jewish organization in the country, with the exception of AIPAC, has its main office in New York, Krasna said. So, while the politics happens in Washington, the city is the place where Israel really does its work to solidify its relationship with the American Jewish community.

"The vitality, success, and continuity of the American Jewish community is critical to the State of Israel," he said. "We are the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state."

Because the American Jewish community is such a large source of both political and fiscal support for Israel, Krasna has to make sure that it trusts Israel’s government to do what the Israeli people want it to do — even if that means explaining why Israel had to withdraw from Gaza, or why later this year it might withdraw from parts of the west bank.

"At the end of the day, the government recognizes its responsibility to the safety and well-being of every citizen, and strategically to make sure Israel continues to thrive and exist as a democratic Jewish homeland within secure borders," he said.

Whether it is dealing with issues related to the Palestinian Hamas government, Iran, or Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s "convergence" plan, the job of the diplomat is constantly changing, Krasna said. Right now, a great deal of the consulate’s time is spent on dealing with Hamas issues and helping to solidify an international front against the terror group.

Krasna grew up in a Zionist home in Forest Hills, Queens, and made alliyah with his family when he was 11. Although his family returned to the United States a few years later, Krasna formed a lifelong connection with the Jewish state during his time there, and after completing a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers in 1986, he returned to Israel for his mandatory military service. He then spent several years on a kibbutz, where he was the co-manager of a dairy farm.

He left Israel again to complete a master’s degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University. And when he returned to Israel, he got his first diplomatic break — in the form of a newspaper help wanted ad calling for diplomats. He applied.

"You throw your name in the hat," he said of the competitive selection process. "Out of 3,500 applicants, 50 get accepted."

After a 10-month application process, Krasna was accepted.

Starting in 1997, he served as Israel’s deputy consul general in Istanbul, as the spokesman of the Israeli embassy in The Hague, and specializing in Multilateral European Institutions Western European Division of the Ministry in Jerusalem.

And while his work abroad gave him a special appreciation for Belgian chocolate, Krasna’s introduction to work as the deputy consul in New York was no cakewalk. He started his New York job in August, at the same time Israel began its unilateral pullout from Gaza. "The day of disengagement was the day I was on the plane," he said.

But rather than landing in New York, where he says many an Israeli diplomat has lived without ever really engaging socially in American life, Krasna, his wife Sharon and their three children decided to live the bridge-and-tunnel life in Teaneck.

Although his diplomatic license plates don’t help with the commute across the George Washington Bridge — Krasna pointed out that both U.S. and Israeli law require diplomats to pay their parking tickets, debunking a popular myth — living locally gives him and his family a lot of opportunities. Their children attend day school in the area and the family belongs to several Orthodox Teaneck shuls. And Krasna said that his immersion into the community gives him a sense of what the community is thinking.

And he hears all about it at shul and other community functions such as Little League baseball games.

"Part of my job is defined as contact with local Jewish leadership. To live in the community is a huge advantage," he said.

He said that he senses from the community a great concern about and a strong commitment to Israel. And people want to know, hear, and understand what is going on. The area’s vast population of Israeli transplants also helps him keep in touch with his Isareli side.

It also gives him a chance to use some of the skills he acquired at different diplomatic stops.

"I’m surprised to see so many taxi drivers who are Turkish," he said. This gives him the opportunity to practice his Turkish, which he described as "useable."

But in a town filled with many of the power brokers in the metropolitan area, Krasna said that he feels right at home, at least for the next three years he is slated to spend at his New York post before he and his family return to their home in Modiin, Israel.

"There are lots of different people in Teaneck with different jobs: Israelis who work in banks, Israelis who are teachers…. So I’m a diplomat," he said.

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